Mayor Betsy Hodges left Minneapolis for L.A. days after Justine Damond shooting

Leila Navidi, Star Tribune

Leila Navidi, Star Tribune

Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges grimaced.

She stood at a podium on July 16 and expressed how "heartsick and deeply disturbed" she was about the news that Minneapolis Police officer Mohamed Noor had shot and killed Fulton neighborhood resident Justine Damond the previous night.    

In the ensuing days, then-Police Chief Janee Harteau caught flack on both social and mainstream media for being in Colorado on a family vacation. Harteau returned to Minneapolis mid-week, and she and Hodges held a press conference on Thursday, July 20. The chief lost her job the following afternoon.

In between Sunday's press conference and Harteau's ouster, members of the international press descended on the neighborhood, begging to interview any neighbor who might speak with them. They also questioned the city and its mayor. The Australian press, in particular, sought to ask Hodges questions on the fly, and in person, about the death of an Australian national at the hands of an American city police force.

Instead, Hodges held a press conference late on Monday, July 17, at which time she urged officer Noor to speak with Bureau of Criminal Apprehension investigators, and said she "share[d] the frustration of the community at not knowing things we desperately wish that we knew."

Hodges did not make any public pronouncements in Minneapolis that following Wednesday, July 19. She wasn't here. A fundraiser for Hodges' campaign was held that night at the Wilshire Country Club in Los Angeles, and the incumbent mayor was in attendance.  

"Lefse and kale wraps, kombucha tasting with Garrison Keillor and an artisan-crafted hotdish featuring organic, locally sourced tofu are just a few things that could bring people from Minneapolis and Los Angeles together," read the event's online invitation

Another, the invitation continued, was helping Hodges get reelected. "It’s never been more important for all of us to work together—in cities all over the country. Whether you’re a Minnesotan who immigrated to Los Angeles or a native Angelino who happens to know the Twin Cities as some of coolest places on Earth, I hope you’ll join me for a fundraiser supporting the reelection of Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges."

According to the mayor's most recent campaign finance disclosure, the event raised at least $10,000.

Last week, Hodges blamed "major public safety incidents in recent weeks," including the Damond killing, as the reasons behind why she was unable to produce her complete budget recommendation by the August 15 deadline as mandated by City Charter.

Instead, she submitted an eight-page "abbreviated budget summary," explaining in a written statement that the incidents have "demanded considerable attention from Mayor Hodges, City Council Members, and senior City staff." Last week, Minneapolis tax official Carol Becker filed a lawsuit against Hodges, alleging Hodges' failure to submit a budget constitutes a dereliction of duty.

City Pages reached out to Hodges' campaign to ask about her California fundraising trip, and did not hear back. Instead, Hodges preemptively addressed the issue with a lengthy Facebook post published early Wednesday afternoon. Hodges blames questions about the fundraiser on opponents "shopping" the story to reporters, and says she spent "most of" the 27 hours of travel "dealing with aftermath of the terrible fallout of the shooting of Justine Damond."

Read Hodges' full statement below. 

"My opponents have been shopping to news outlets that I held a fundraiser for my campaign in July. They're right. I did. I traveled overnight to Los Angeles for an event held on July 19. During the 27 total hours that I was traveling, I spent most my time dealing with the aftermath of the terrible shooting of Justine Damond, just as I had almost every moment since the shooting happened. I had been ready and willing to cancel my flight, and only that morning made the decision that my physical presence in Minneapolis was not required for this brief period. While traveling, I spoke with neighbors, City Council members, school district officials, and community leaders, including in the East African community. I worked with my staff and the police to coordinate communications with our residents and the public. I communicated with command staff of the Police Department. I checked in on the process for filing complaints against police officers. That’s what a tough, tested leader does in a crisis. In other words, I did exactly the same work I would have done had I stayed in Minneapolis. And during those 27 hours, I also spent a few hours at a campaign event. There is more big money in the race for mayor this year than there ever has been before in Minneapolis. One of my opponents has cynically exploited a campaign-finance loophole to give himself an unethical, $177,000 head start. In so doing, he has deceived his contributors and thrown out decades of clean campaign practices, which all candidates for mayor before him had honored. Another opponent has funded just over half of his campaign so far with his own personal wealth. Yet these same opponents are peddling outrage that I would attend a fundraiser for my campaign. (Never mind the fact that public campaign-finance reports suggest that one of my opponents held a fundraiser for himself the very next day.) What my opponents don’t understand about being mayor is that you have to be able to do many things at once, like lead a city and govern through a crisis while campaigning for reelection. The notion that I should do nothing to promote my record as mayor while the men running against me, who do not have the responsibilities I do, should be free to raise unlimited amounts is ridiculous. My opponents are also shopping the idea that the few hours that I spent at one fundraiser in July wipe off the ledger the more than 200 hours I spent over three weeks responding to two major public-safety crises — the fatal shooting of Justine Damond and the fatal explosion at Minnehaha Academy — and successfully bringing on a new police chief in the process. Leading our city during those terrible events, plus bringing on the new chief, consumed nearly all of my time for weeks, and took away nearly all of the time I had planned to finalize my proposal for the City’s 2018 budget. As a common-sense adaptation to those crises, I delivered on August 15 all the basic elements of my budget that the City Charter requires me to deliver by that date, and will deliver my budget speech and full details of my proposed budget on September 12. This is consistent with the practice of recent years, when public-safety crises in the summer of 2007 (the I-35W bridge collapse) and 2011 (the North Minneapolis tornado) led then-Mayor R.T. Rybak to do the same: deliver his Charter-required budget elements by August 15, and his full speech and budget proposal a few weeks later. Yet my opponents are peddling the notion that if, in the middle of these crises, I had put the few hours I spent at the July fundraiser toward the budget, that would have been enough for me to deliver my full 2018 budget and speech on August 15. This notion is also ridiculous: if only the men running for mayor had the slightest understanding of how Minneapolis’ $1.4 billion budget actually works, they’d know that it takes weeks to write it, not a few hours."